Saturday, March 6, 2010

Open Forum: Rethinking Bisexuality

It is without doubt that there are people who experience romantic/erotic attractions to more than one sex. Typically we have called this group of people bisexual. There are many individuals who have moved away from the term finding that it isn't inclusive enough of their own feelings and identity.

Some are taken back by the stereotypes associated with bisexuality and therefore seek to distance themselves from being associated with those negative and false connotations. Some people simply do not like that the word 'sexual' is in the term because it implies that the orientation is only about sex when in fact that is only one aspect of it. Finally, there are those who prefer terms such as queer, pansexual, omnisexual, and fluid to describe their identity because they find bisexuality limiting.

Bi means two and therefore many are turned off by the dichotomy that it presents. If you are bi it means you like males and females to some degree. Many people find that this excludes many other sexes and genders such as those who are intersex, transgender, genderqueer, androgynous or non-gendered. That is why these new terms have popped up to describe sexual identities that are more inclusive of all people.

What about re-conceiving what bisexuality is all about? Bi does mean two but we don't have to approach bisexuality as interest in two sexes (male & female). Why can't bi refer to those who are romantically/erotically attracted to both a masculine and feminine spirit that individuals offer. By discussing the essence of an individual it eliminates all reference to gender and sex and instead focuses on the characteristics that people find attractive.

Do you think bisexuality is outdated? Or is there room for new interpretation that can include everyone with attractions to more than one sex and gender under an already established and understood term called bisexual?


DaHapaKine said...

I'm bi and have never liked the word for the reasons you listed- limiting, invokes negative stereotypes, focused on sex. I don't think the word can be re-interpreted as the linguistic components are so clear and mathematical. Bi=2. I like the idea in theory of reconceptualizing the word, but then the word 'sexual' is in there, and the idea of connecting the male/female 'spirit' with the word 'sexual' just doesn't resonate for me. I would love to have a way to describe my orientation that does NOT include the word sex. Sheesh- I've never thought so hard about this before. Thanks for the great discussion topic!

Anonymous said...

I don't think bisexual is an outdated term, as I'm sure it's still applicable in a way pansexual might not be. For instance, if I were attracted to very feminine females, and masculine males, but not androgyny, I would consider that to be bisexual, as it is very much reliant on the gender.

Adriana said...

You are so right, it's a difficult dilemma. My main objection to the term is the negative stereotypes it seems to generate automatically. I prefer the term sexually fluid - but I agree, this is about so much more than sex. I don't have any suggestions for a term that would encompass the masculine and feminine spirit you're talking about. If such a term existed, though, it would come so much closer to describing my own sensuality.


CrackerLilo said...

I don't feel at all limited by "bisexual". I feel it describes my romantic/erotic interests and history just fine. (I do like mostly feminine women and mostly masculine men, though. I may feel different if my tastes were different.) My only problem is that other people won't acknowledge that term often enough. I see nothing to rethink, but I understand that others may.

I have to say I really don't want to be called "pansexual". To me, it gives the impression that one isn't limited to human adults, though I know that is not the users' intent.

Sally Heap said...

I'm bi and I hate the term. Some people assume it means a perfect 50/50 split in attractions, to some it brings to mind porn movies and 3 ways, to some it's a gay person in denial, or a straight person just experimenting. I think pansexual works better for me, but then the whole label thing bothers me anyway. I'm married, and monogamous, so my "label" doesn't really serve any practical purpose. But, when pressed, I tend to say halfdyke. I'm half dyke, half not. It works for me.
But I really think, at least for bisexual women, we need to get this fun-time girls gone wild image tossed out. It's demeaning and insulting.

Pam said...

I'm a butch biological woman who has lived most of my life as straight (married and kids). I'm bisexual in the old sense--I'm definitely interested in women. But what seems to me more interesting is those years when I was a woman with a lot of male spirit in a relationship with a man who was in many ways a female spirit. Do you want to include that in your definition?

Cody said...

One question, though; if there are multiple terms to be used, how can one reliably gain any data that could be of much use to us in the GLBT population (asking as a Psych undergrad)?

By dividing us up even more, it makes me think that, even though it'll be easier to accommodate oneself, there'll just be more arguing and infighting, as well as more ways for people that are already giving us trouble to point out our differences...

Merideth said...

Hmm, how timely that you would post this when I just made a post on this a few days ago! I hope everyone will read it, as it contains most of what I'd say here in the comments.

Anonymous said...

I think the problem is that everybody else sees bisexuals as liars, or to some degree as people who are lying to themselves. I don't that's fair. I consider myself a bisexual guy, because to some degree I find both sexes/spirits attractive in both their bodies, and what they represent as human beings. And what I just said, is extremely hard to understand to some people.

libhom said...

It's not the word bisexual that generates the negative sterotypes. It's the prejudice against bisexual people that does. Any word describing queers will have negative connotations for bigots.

Rig Daddy said...

I love people of all genders. Though I'm cisgendered, my life is full of the gender queer, gender fluid and transgendered. Bisexual does not fully encompass that and I dislike the term.

I'm queer.

Rig Daddy

LM said...

Interesting topic QU.

I tend to think that many bisexuals have a bad reputation not because the gay & lesbian comminity is "prejudice." In fact, it is prejudice with a capital B, to make a sweeping negative generalization about gays and lesbians which anyone and everyone seems to feel free to do these days. If there is any community that has a history of being one of the most inclusive and colorful, it is gays and lesbians. Let's keep some perspective here.
Of course no one is perfect nor should they be expected to be, but I don't think our being careful with our best interests is "prejudice" in any way. Many bisexual's have the reputations they do because of many bisexual's behavior. Just as many straight men have reputations for being sexist, homophobic and racist. Just as many gay men have reputations for being catty and promiscuous and as Lesbians have reputations for being judgemental liberal vegetarian snobs. It is because a good majority are, and yet it doesn't mean they all are of course.

Lately I've noticed many bisexuals refering to themselves as Queer. From my perspective it makes good sense to do so. If someone is attracted to Lesbians, and Trans etc., they do not have to label themselves for anyone until they feel comfortable doing so but the trouble comes when people lie and claim to be the same sexuality as the person they are attracted to in order to get connected with them.

Anonymous said...

Why does everything need to be categorized? Why can't one's emotional and sexual attractions be whatever they want to call them and not fit into some preordained mold? I like sex...period. Amen. Sex with men who are manly and sex with women who are womanly. If I want sex with a fem guy I'd rather it be with a woman, and I'd rather be with a man than a manly woman. And all of that doesn't have to fit into a box- no pun intended. I'm just a sexual being, as we all are as humans- why the labels and categories? Labels are there so others know who/what we prefer & its none ones business but my business. Who cares what others think? My sexuality is my business.

Jay said...

I am both bisexual and pagan, so for me the idea of "duality" is perfectly natural. I had no issue with mixing sexuality with spirituality as there should be nothing "negative" or "nonspiritual" about physicality (sexual or otherwise). I believe that the masculine and feminine exist in some degree in every living thing, whether it is a masculine being in a female form, a feminine being in a male form, or any blending between the masculine and feminine in essence and form.

I have found that bisexuals are not very welcome in either the "straight" or "queer" communities. In the straight community we are a threat to their idea of morality (even more so than gay individuals). In the queer community we are viewed as fence sitters, liars, or in denial. What we really are to the insecure-queer is a threat because we "can choose" our partners' genders (in as much as anyone "chooses" whom they are attracted to or fall in love with).

I have no issue with the term bisexual, though I usually call myself "omnisexual" or "pansexual" when asked. Then again, most of the time, I just answer that I like "surf & turf"... that either gets me a good chuckle or a puzzled look (which makes me laugh).

I don't think we need a new label -- I think we need to overcome the "need" to label at all. I really don't see what a person's sexuality should play in anyone else's life at all... you either are or aren't attracted to someone, regardless of gender or orientation. Just because a person is straight doesn't mean he or she will automatically be attracted to anyone of the opposite gender. Why should we be subjected to being put into orientational boxes at all?

Merideth said...

Hahaha, "surf & turf." That made me lol irl. Going to have to remember that one.

Anonymous said...

I'm perfectly happy with the word Bisexual - after all, I've been proudly calling myself that for 38 years now. But if we DESPERATELY need another term, why not look to the world of politics for inspiration? I vote for the best candidate, regardless of party. That makes me an Independent. I also refuse to blindly follow the extremes of either the Left or the Right. That makes me a Moderate. I view my sexuality in much the same way. I know it's a cliche, but I AM attracted to the person, not the gender, just as I vote for the candidate, not the party.
Who knows, maybe if we start calling ourselves Moderates or Independents, the world will start thinking of us as the decent, reasonable people most of us are. (Plus, I'd LOVE to see the look on some biphobic haters face (straight or gay) when I describe myself as a sexual Moderate!)

Anonymous said...

I am open to the way that anyone likes to identify, so long as they feel that identity is true to them. I am open to individuals employing a number of identities--I myself have, over time, identified as bisexual, pansexual and queer. Having a fluid sexuality has taught me how unreliable labels are regarding complete expression of where an individual is truly at sexually and emotionally, let alone politically.

Things I hate:
Individuals avoiding a bisexual, pansexual or queer identity because of the fear of discrimination or shunning from the LGBT community. Fear and hatred of people with fluid sexuality MUST be opposed in the LGBT community. If you don't oppose it in the general queer community, how can you hope to confront it in the heteropatriarchal mainstream? Step out and be visible. Grow a pair and speak out against the stereotypes.

Prejudice in the the LGBT community against people with fluid sexuality. Calling bisexuals "greedy" or "fencesitters;" acting as if people who identify as pansexual are weird freaks. Not dating bi/pan/fluid sexuality people categorically. Dating bi/pan/fluid sexuality people and then telling them to "change" into gay or lesbian. Telling fluid sexuality people that they are just "bi now, gay later." Judging us according to the gender we are dating. Telling us to "pick a side."

I don't date genders. I don't date "sides." I date individuals. If you have a gender, bring it along, just don't expect it to be the be-all and end-all of what makes a relationship work between us. If we have a relationship, you'd better have more going on than what's between your legs or what you think about what's between your legs. As for what society thinks about us being together--they can all suck it.

The Nerd said...

I actually call myself different things depending on the situation. I use "bisexual" because everyone knows what I'm talking about. I use "lesbian" when I'm talking about my feminine sexual side. I have found I don't need to use a word at all when talking about my heterosexual feelings because everyone just assumes that to be the default, which kind of sucks. But anyway, I love the word "queer" and try to use that the most, though it's rather difficult to just whip out in a conversation.

At the end of the day, it's all about communication. Whichever word works to get my intent across is the one I'll select.

Miyamashi said...

This is a good topic, and one that I've actually discussed with friends before. I tend to use the term "bisexual" when I need to get my point across quickly, without the need for extra explanation, but I do find the term too limiting to actually encompass my true feelings.

When I want to really put across how I feel, I tend to prefer "pansexual". In my mind, there IS a difference between the two. There are, in fact, people who are bisexual, and to whom the idea of transsexuals, androgynes, bigenders, and others who lie outside the gender binary are out of the question. I find "pansexual" to be more inclusive, something particularly important when I, myself, am bigender.

However, both of the terms have problems. Pansexual, to some, denotes one who has sex with all, and this does not mean "all humans of age". I had someone arguing with me that I wasn't pansexual, because I didn't feel sexual attraction toward children, animals, and inanimate objects, which I thought was ridiculous. Bisexual also has its own stigma. I've been told things like, "You're just greedy", "choose already", and "it must be a phase. You'll figure out if you're gay or straight eventually."

Perhaps the problem lies in the terminology. Maybe I don't need to have a word to define myself. In fact, that may be more truthful, to say I don't have a sexuality, as it's more about the person than the body that person is inhabiting. However, the problem arises with: How can I explain what I'm feeling to those around me and raise awareness if there's no term to describe it?

Angelia Sparrow said...

I identify as bisexual. It's a term most people understand (although after encountering the guy who confused monogamous with masochistic, I hesitate to say all).

Clarity is everything, as an earlier poster said. I do use queer now and then to make a point, especially on days when I am feeling very masculine or have spent the day in drag (male or female, I don't perform either well).

Anonymous said...

I don't think labeling is inherently wrong, especially if it's self-labeling. As humans, we've been exploring ideas by trying to describe them in words for ages. I understand that many people have decided to go without labels, but I don't think it's a sign that we should do away with the words, but rather that we should note that one of the many, many labels can be "untitled."

As far as "bisexual" goes, I think it would be dangerous to redefine it to refer to the "spirit" of the individuals we are attracted to, because then people who are indeed attracted to masculine men and feminine women (and not so much feminine men or masculine women) – the people who get the brunt of the discrimination from the solid het and homo crowds – will have even less of a home. As one of these people, I feel like identifying myself as bisexual under your proposed definition might bring more acceptance at first but it would be with an asterisk, say,

*yes, i accept you because i know what you mean is fluid, you're enlightened, you are truly blind to gender/sex, you are amazing

That's not what I am! What this would do is force me to specify in conversation that I am indeed bisexual in the "traditional" sense, singling out me and my kind more than ever.

And one note:
MOST of us are attracted to just people, not the contents of their pants or gender IDs (and when I say us, I mean humans, not bisexuals)! The labeling is just to describe what we tend to find there when we look!

Greg said...

It seems the younger we are, the more willing we are to accept this notion that we need to identify with one of these labels. As if it will create awkward situations when people ask what we are. We aren't anything except ourselves. We are constantly evolving. All of our tastes and preferences are in constant flux, but for some reason we have an urge to nail-down this particular preference. We need to get over this urge. My sexuality is fluid, just like everything else about me.

goethechosemercy said...

I am biasexual.
I have had powerful romantic attractions to both men and women.
I feel just as flattered when a woman compliments me as when a man does.
I have also called myself bi. Bi describes my range of attraction, it describes me romantically.
Asexual describes me best behaviorally, there are just lots of things I would rather be doing.
Thank you for this blog, Queer Unity

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